It’s three in the afternoon and you’re staring at the infinite bullet points on your to-do list for the day, and pretty soon the familiar pang of hunger starts to kick in. You’ve done so well with your food so far for the day- a vegetable omelette for breakfast, apple for morning tea, chicken salad for lunch, and two litres of water, and yet you find yourself walking mindlessly to the vending machine for a packet of potato chips. And suddenly, the downward spiral begins.
Most of us are aware of the importance of having a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but for far too many of us, our snacking is where we make or break our healthy eating habits. It’s the little (or sometimes big) things we graze on between meals that can be the difference between feeling energised, healthy and in control of our weight, or spiraling out of control. It is easy to forget about the calories we mindlessly snack on throughout the day, despite the fact they contribute to our daily energy budget. There are no magical non-calorie snacks! Adopting healthful snacking habits can help set the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
To snack, or not to snack?
There is much debate about whether it’s a good idea to eat between meals. Healthy snacking is a way in which we can ensure that we’re getting all the essential nutrients necessary to keep us feeling healthy and energised. For active people who have increased energy requirements and busy training schedules, snacking is an opportunity to fuel the body between meals. Smart snacking can also be an effective weight loss tool used to help combat excessive hunger and overeating at meal times – hello double portions at dinner.
Choosing a healthy, correctly portioned snack can:
- Help keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day and therefore sustain our energy levels
- Assist with refueling the body and replenishing muscles after a workout and enhance athletic performance
- Prevent people from overeating and consuming excess calories at main meal
Experts are not unanimous about snacking. When deciding whether snacking is for you, it is important to listen to your hunger and satiety cues- snack if you are hungry (stomach hunger), and don’t snack if you’re likely to be eating for reasons other than hunger (head hunger), such as boredom, stress and procrastination. It is also important to remember that people vary in their need to snack depending on a range of factors including:
- Age: What stage of the life-cycle is a person in e.g. a growing adolescent vs a sedentary 80yr old man
- Gender: Men generally require more calories than women due to their higher basal metabolic rate
- Activity level: An athlete training multiple times per day vs. a sedentary office worker who is 15kg overweight
- Body composition goals: An individual trying to gain lean muscle who requires an energy surplus (extra calories) vs. an individual trying to lose fat who requires an energy deficit (fewer calories)
What makes a snack ‘healthy’?
Snacking does not have to derail your healthy eating or weight loss efforts if you choose your snack wisely, snack only when hungry, and are mindful of your portion sizes. A common snacking mistake is eating too many snacks throughout the day. It is important to remember that a snack is a snack, not a meal– should merely ‘quieten’ your hunger, not leave your pants bursting at the seams. Far too many people choose large portion sizes, or opt for snacks that are high in fat and sugar which only provide empty calories.
An ideal healthy snack:
- Generally, ranges between 100-200 calories
- Should include some form of vegetable or salad e.g. celery and carrot sticks, fresh piece of fruit, berries, baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes,
- Includes one or more of the following nutrients as they work together to nourish the body and satisfy hunger:
- Low GI carbohydrates: These provide a steady stream of energy (sugar) and include fresh fruit, milk, Greek yoghurt, vita-weats, ryvitas, wholegrain bread, soy & linseed bread, sourdough bread and legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils)
- Lean protein: These help promote satiety and fullness and help stabilise blood sugar or energy levels and include milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, lean meat, chicken, fish, tofu and legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils)
- Healthy fats: These help keep us full and can help prevent overeating. Sources include nuts, seeds, nut butters (e.g. natural peanut butter), avocado